Before I had children (well, a child to be more specific – I don’t think I had more than one and then carelessly lost the extras), I used to challenge myself to try something new (and legal) every year. I did all manner of exciting and fun things: sky diving, water skiing, creative writing, abseiling, assault course challenges and I used to love the thrill of the unknown. That, ‘sick in the pit of your stomach, Ex-Lax feeling’ that you might not actually get through this in one piece (and that was just the creative writing course!) as the adrenalin pumped through your veins as a reminder of what feeling alive, really, truly alive, can be like. As the years progress though and the school run, the business, the garden, the extended family, the accountant, the networking, the VAT returns, the interior decorating and another million excuses take precedence, it is so easy to fall into a routine that allows no time and space for unchartered territories and new challenges.
Hence my decision to step up to the plate and do something different this year. I was having a discussion with my friend Stephanie Davies, (professional comedian and MD of Laughology, which helps people to reduce stress levels through humour) about doing a comedy workshop to help my clients to use humour to connect with their audiences. She explained that each year she does a series of workshops in aid of Claire House Children’s Hospice and why didn’t I join in? She forgot to mention that you have to perform at a comedy gig at the end of it, oh and by the way, the gig is also a competition! And so it was that I recently found myself, alongside 12 other comedy virgins treading the boards at The Marriott Hotel. Oh, and did I tell you about the sell-out audience and the panel of judges which included a media expert, a couple of professional comedians and last year’s winner who were judging us on content, timing, delivery, confidence and whether we managed to get through the set without falling off stage (my son’s criteria for success at the end there).
United by tea, Hobnobs and fear
I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences that I have had in years. There was such a diverse group of people, from a Sainsbury’s shop assistant, to a journalist, a customs officer, senior managers, an ex-mayor and charity workers. Everyone had fantastic stories to tell and throughout the process we were united by tea, Hobnobs, a passion to learn and, what can only be described as liquid fear. We need not have worried. Steph, our fantastic tutor glowed with pride in her fledgling virgin comedians as the audience clapped and cheered the night away. Not that it was all plain sailing – I must have developed 40 minutes-worth of material before I was happy with the seven minutes that made the final cut.
Oh and the angst of it all – yes even me….the nightmares that I’m on the stage, trying out my finely honed stories and you can hear a pin drop until someone yells out, “Are you lost love? The toilets are out the back”.
I’m relieved to say, the nightmare did not turn into a reality – my time on stage flew by and I went from feeling like a Libyan dictator in a drain pipe to the all-conquering All Blacks as I stepped off the stage to huge whoops and genuine applause. Comedy is truly the new rock and roll and I couldn’t believe it when I was voted the second funniest person to stand on stage that night – I might as well have won a BAFTA for how fantastic it felt to be judged as worthy of an accolade amongst so many seriously funny people.
Key Lessons Learnt in the Process?
So, on reflection, what did I learn through the process of ‘learning how to be funny’ that I can apply to my own business and those that I work with? Here are my top six tips:
1. Be yourself – don’t try and be someone else – you are good enough and it’s only through being yourself that deep authentic relationships based on trust and integrity can be built.
2. Smile, be confident and start with the attitude that, whatever happens today, you’re going to enjoy yourself – you’ll find it’s contagious.
3. Communicate with clarity and be concise – people are not mind readers – get to the point and don’t waste time with waffle.
4. Create the conditions for creativity and challenge to flow – fear of failure can stop you from trying something new. Change is inevitable and if you always do what you’ve always done, you will lose competitive advantage. It’s okay to make mistakes and have fun doing so - as long as you learn from the experience.
5. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you (be it jokes, ideas, products, or achievements) without giving credit where credit is due. You will soon engender mistrust and demotivation if you do.
6. Be the change you want to see - love life and make sure that you are a person who is known for encouraging, supporting and ‘filling the cups’ of those around you. Whatever you do, if there is a ‘mood hoover’ in your midst, make sure it isn’t you!
So today it’s comedy, tomorrow its slack rope walking or free running or performance poetry or who knows. Whatever the learning, I’m going to stretch and grow from the experience and use it to help others to do the same.
What’s my challenge to my clients and those of you reading this article? – are you up for a new challenge? What are you going to do that you’ve never even contemplated doing before? Who knows, embarking into the unknown might even lead to a whole new way of working and living. Go on……I dare you!
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